Idea Exchange, 12 Water Street South

Year built: 1884-87

Builder: Thomas Fuller (architect); M.A. Piggott (builder)

Original purpose: Originally a post office — and later a customs house as well — this building is located prominently in downtown Cambridge overlooking the Grand River. This handsome two-and-a-half-storey stone building is finished in Guelph limestone and features symmetrical twin façades. Its striking design includes an eye-catching clock tower and blends elements of the Romanesque, Gothic and Second Empire styles to create a unique and eclectic structure typical of architect Thomas Fuller. It was constructed as part of a program that expanded government services in small towns across Canada. Even though the building fell into disuse and suffered from years of neglect and vandalism, the City implemented stabilization measures. With a federal designation in 1983, the site was saved from demolition.

Adaptive reuse: The old post office building was designated a National Historic Site in 1983. The Idea Exchange opened at this location in 2018 following a lengthy restoration by a team led by RDH Architects. It has now been transformed into a bookless library — complete with public studio spaces, a restaurant and event space. The restored exterior showcases heritage elements of the original post office architecture, with a new glass pavilion added with views out over the Grand River. By keeping the historical structure, the building strengthens its relationship to other civic amenities in Cambridge, while maintaining its original building profile for the downtown community. Often featured as part of Doors Open Waterloo Region.

Adapted by: RDH Architects

Awards: Includes the Governor General’s 2022 Medal in Architecture; see their website for a full list of awards